MASSAPONAX, Va. — As baby boomers get older, their health will continue to play a role in their ability to drive.
Older drivers who have a history of falling are 40 percent more likely to be involved in an accident than their peers.
The findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety are concerning, especially as the number of older drivers on local roads increases.
“Nationwide, drivers 60 and older are involved in more than 400,000 crashes each year, and it’s important that we find ways to keep them and others safe on the road,” Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement.
Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus say that falls can increase the crash risk in two ways.
The first is that a fall can cause a loss of functional ability, generally due to injury. After suffering an injury such as a wrist fracture or a broken leg, it becomes more difficult for older drivers to steer or stop to avoid a crash.
The second is that a fall can lead to a fear of falling, leading to a decrease in physical activity.
“When it comes to physical health, you either use it or lose it,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety and advocacy.
“Falls often scare people into being less active, but decreasing physical activity can weaken muscles and coordination and make someone more likely to be in a crash.”
Researchers say seniors and families should look at falls as an early indicator of declining health.
“These findings allow traffic safety advocates the ability to further educate senior drivers and their families about increased crash risks,” Meade said.
As the large baby boom generation continues to age, the problem will only get worse.
From 2010 to 2015, crashes involving older drivers in Virginia rose by 17.5 percent, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles says.
The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service says the number of drivers 65 and older will increase by three percent every 10 years through 2030.